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Fluke season may be extended for recreational anglers

Meanwhile, commercial fishermen are facing a cutback of more than 42,000 pounds in the quota for fluke.

Recreational anglers may get a longer fluke season this year, but commercial fishermen are facing a 2018 quota cutback of more than 42,000 pounds of the locally important fish.

At a meeting of the Marine Resources Advisory Council in Setauket on Tuesday, members voted to extend the recreational fluke season by around three weeks and to increase the number of fluke sports anglers can keep from three to four. The measures still require approval by an interstate fishing commission in the coming weeks and months.

The season would start May 4 and continue through Sept. 30. Last year it started May 17 and ended Sept. 21.

The moves come as fishing groups await action by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to help increase the state’s overall commercial quota for fluke, a critical species for recreational and commercial fishing interests.

One official at the meeting said the state continues to pursue legal measures to remedy New York’s small percentage of the East Coast fluke quota.

Jim Gilmore, director of the marine resources division of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said the remedy may not initially come in the form of a “straight up” lawsuit, as previously contemplated.

Instead, he said, the state is working with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to examine administrative and other legal approaches to increase the New York commercial fluke quota, which stands at 7.6 percent of the coastal allotment. Other states such as North Carolina and Virginia get more than 20 percent each of the quota and often come to New York waters to catch it.

“We’re very close,” Gilmore said of measures to combat the low quota. “The governor wants to do something as soon as possible.”

Fishermen and advocates say they are getting impatient.

“This is more of the same impotent response from the governor’s office that we’ve had for years,” said attorney Daniel Rodgers, executive director of New York Fish, a fishing advocacy group. “It’s time for political action.”

“They’ve got to do something,” Hampton Bays commercial fisherman Stephen Johnston said. “We just don’t have enough quota.”

Meanwhile, commercial fishermen this year must make up for 42,941 pounds of fluke regulators say they overfished last year. At the meeting Tuesday, council members and fishermen considered a range of options to make the 14 percent reduction, including closing the inshore commercial fishery on weekends in August. That seemed to have support until one council member, Thomas Jordan, passionately argued on behalf of smaller local boat captains who need every day available to keep operations afloat while larger industrial trawlers have multiple licenses and can fish out of state.

Board members also discussed the prospect of addressing a loophole in state law that relieves party and charterboat captains from direct responsibility when fishers on their boat take fish beyond the limits.

Council member Steve Witthuhn, who operates a Montauk charterboat, said the council is considering forming a subcommittee to address the issue, which was brought to light last year when DEC officers raided a partyboat in Montauk and found abandoned coolers filled with illegal fish.

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